Sugar vs. Red Maple

grit0416(z7a ATL GA)November 7, 2005

Hi everyone,

We are thinking of planting a maple in our front yard where we had an old rickety pine tree removed. It will provide shade as well as color. Which maple do you suggest? Sugar or Red? I keep seeing the gorgeous ones that are golden and red all over town and not sure which is which. Thanks for your help.


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I think I am correct in saying the red maple is native and is the smaller of the two with variable but mostly red foliage. The sugar maple on the other hand, is from the north. it will do well here and it will be taller and the color will have more fiery fed, orange and yellow mixed. The sugar maple nursery tag should say acer (maple) saccarin (sp?) (sugar). Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2005 at 6:54PM
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The well known Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum, consist of 2 varieties, both are native in GA, but only in scattered locations, mostly in the higher mountain elevations. They are intolerent of high summer temperatures and growth(even survival) in those conditions are not predictable. There is a Southern Sugar Maple. Acer barbatum(a/k/a Acer saccharum, ssp. floridanum[Florida Maple]), that is also native in GA and most of the southeast. Sugar Maple grows very slowly, usually only a few inches a year for the first 3-4 years from seed and then about 12" each year for the next 100-150 years, to a maximum height of about 120 ft. Red Maple(Acer rubrum) grows at about twice that rate or about 2 ft. per year to a mature height of 60-80 ft. It is also more adaptable to various habitat conditions, from swamps to dry uplands, In dry locations, it develops a deep taproot to reach available moisture, but still has the lateral feeder roots, common in all Maples.
I am growing some seedlings of each one, Acer saccharum and A rubrum, furnished by a TN nurseryman, to test the side-by-side performance in this area. So far, the Sugar Maples have maintained their leaf quality much better under drought and heat conditions, than the Red Maples. Both are about the same size(1 ft.) after 2 years.
If you choose the Red Maple, try to find one of the cultivars, such as 'Red October', that have a more vibrant color than the species, which are not nearly as colorful in the South, compared to those in Northern states.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2005 at 2:00AM
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grit0416(z7a ATL GA)

Great info! Thanks so much!

    Bookmark   November 8, 2005 at 7:48AM
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Actually, I have to disagree on the cultivar providing better color than the species for red maple.
The cultivars have what I call "Artificial Red FD&C #3" and that fizzled out quickly on the neighborhood trees and colored much sooner (too soon) The native maples are a stunning yellow color this year. I can't tell you how many times I've pulled off the road in the past two weeks checking to see what a glowing yellow tree was.

I just planted a 'steeple' sugar maple that is supposedly a Mike Dirr selection he made from a tree in Athens. So I assume it's native in Athens at least. Just about any cultivar you find here in this area is going to have better heat and drought resistance, 'legacy' in particular. The fall color on the sugar maples here is a red, yellow, orange, mostly the latter two but those are the colors I prefer and they absolutely glow. You can spot a sugar maple a mile away.

If it were my choice, I'd go with a sugar maple. I have 4 of them in my yard, (two different cultivars) and their fall color and appearance before that did not dissappoint. There's too many mature sugar maples around for me to buy into the whole "they don't like the heat" thing.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2005 at 9:37AM
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No question, the Red Maple is superior in my book. AND, do get one of the cultivars, such as October Glory or Red Sunset. They are infinitely better than the species for Fall color, and I have grown them with great success for a looong time. When in doubt, check your copy of Dirr's Manual of Woody Landscape Plants(which you absolutely need. If you don't have it, ask for it for Christmas).

    Bookmark   November 15, 2005 at 6:34PM
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Hey William...
I think you misread my reply.

But maybe it's because I need to buy a $90 book to figure things out.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2005 at 9:21PM
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We had a sugar maple in Gwinnett when I was growing up, and it was stunning. No problem with heat. Then the sapsuckers found it, and it was dead in two years. I've never seen so many holes in a tree.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2005 at 5:29PM
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woody_ga(7a GA)

We just planted an 10 foot tall October Glory, so I'll let you know what I think... in about a decade.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2005 at 1:13PM
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My message was read a bit too tightly, I'm afraid, by some. If anyone wants to see how good October Glory is, get to a business park called Satellite Place that's on (you guessed it) Satellite Boulevard just North of Gwinnett Place Mall, I'll rest my case. They are October Glory planted 8 years ago. Hurry, since they're holding their leaves unbelievably long, but not much longer.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2005 at 2:56PM
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William, I read your post yesterday but I wasn't expecting to have to go over there but I wound up going there last night because I needed something from Harry's but couldn't remember what street you said they were. I saw some very brilliantly illuminated maples of some kind on Mall blvd. But I guess those weren't the ones you were talking about. I've seen some late coloring maples around. I think the ones coloring now are more intense than the ones from a month ago. There's some sugar and Norway maples coloring at a shopping center near me that are very eye catching to say the least.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2005 at 3:13PM
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girlgroupgirl(8 ATL)

Scotland, send SAP SUCKERS my way, PLEASE!
We have a HORRIBLE maple on the property we recently purchased. It isn't straight, it is way too "rooty" and it doesn't color up well. It turns yellow in a day, brown in a day, and is leafless on the 3rd day. My hubby says that the only compliment this thing should get is that it drops it's leaves in a day or two so it's easy to rake the yard, lol.
I long for a pretty, flaming maple but we have not been given permission to cut it down. Sapsuckers invaded two trees I planted in one place (killed the trees while very young....) do they live in soil? I could throw some of the soil from that area over there.....
October Glory sounds wonderful.
I think mine should be called the Lemon Maple!!


    Bookmark   December 1, 2005 at 4:35PM
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Actually sapsuckers are birds. They're woodpeckers and their real name is yellow breasted sapsucker. They'll make a lot of holes trying to get to the sap of a maple, but I think it's pretty rare to do long term damage. You can recognize them by the very cat-like "mew" they make as they circle a tree limb. The tree you probably have is a Silver Maple. They typically have a poor habit, very shallow root system, even for a maple, and are notoriously "dirty," with broken branches all over the ground. While I would "never" do this, if you really want to get rid of it, Roundup, after leaf drop, into holes bored in the trunk will do the dirty deed.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2005 at 6:44PM
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girlgroupgirl(8 ATL)

William, yes, it does. I'm getting rid of a few other fast growing junk trees imbedded in a fenceline with this method. However, I wouldn't do that to this maple.
I was hoping the sapsuckers were insects. I really did not know that there REALLY is a yellowbelly sapsucker, as they say on the Flintstones!!! We definately have them in this area. You can hear them call.
We get some sapsucking, hole boring insects here in a few trees. My two that died, and one of the junk trees that is on it's way out. I just decided to take that one down before it fell on the house!


    Bookmark   December 1, 2005 at 10:05PM
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If not a silver maple, maybe it's a Norway maple.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2005 at 3:43PM
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Sugar or red are both OK in my book. BTW, as an experiment about 12 years ago, I planted three sugar maple seedlings on my place in southeast Alabama (Pike Co) and all 3 seem to have excellent growth habit and brilliant yellow/gold to orange fall color. Heat does not seem to hinder them but with that said, they were planted near a stream bottom in a wooded and shady area. I just wanted to see if they could become established there and so far, so good.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2005 at 10:01PM
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Just out of curiosity....
Has anyone ever seen a sugar maple (A. saccharum) here or elsewhere, NOT do well because of heat? I'm not talking about minor leaf issues, but major struggling.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2005 at 2:28PM
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Sugar Maple is my favorite. I grew up in Kentucky and Illinois and they are everywhere. The autumn is a gorgeous mix of gold and orange. My neighbors had a small sugar maple planted in their yard here in Georgia when I bought my house and I followed a landscapers advice and treated the other side of my house to a sugar maple. Because of the placement it makes it appear that my yard is bigger than it is because of the symmetry of the two trees. I've added ten feet of visual yard space... talk about curb appeal!

My tree was beautiful this year. It became my seven-year-old's favorite place to climb and hide. It was planted the year he was born. He and I both loved the color mix of green, orange, and gold that hid him from passersby.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2005 at 11:59PM
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southwebb(z7b GA)

The business complex in Fairburn where I work has approximately 30 sugar maples planted around it. I would guess that they have been there for 10 or more years. I have been working there for three years and probably 5 have died. I would imagine that heat was a factor, although I can't rule out other factors. Rainfall has been sufficient during this time.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2005 at 9:39PM
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GAAlan(z7b(on map) 8(imby) Atlanta)

I would be hard pressed to pick between the two because I like them both for different reasons.

I like red maple for its wonderful red/orange flowers in late winter, the ability to withstand wet and heavy soils, and of course fall color. I agree that the selected cultivars can be stunning at peak.

I like Sugar maple for its symmetry of leaf and form and its sometimes brilliant oranges and yellows. I have two, one a 20-25 year old tree that when young I literally burned to the ground. Fire ants had built a mound around its trunk, and to get rid of it I set it afire. To this day I cringe at my stupidity. The tree as I knew it then was no more, but it overcame, and has made a very fine specimen. So, at least from my perspective, Sugar maple can indeed tolerate a LOT of heat!

    Bookmark   December 18, 2005 at 2:20PM
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You know Alan, I think you and I might have a case of reverse-zone denial. Since your blue spruces are doing well and your sugar maple recovered from the 3rd degree burns, I'm more tempted than ever to try a fraser fir. I wish I could dip one of these Christmas trees in rooting hormone and stick it in my yard.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2005 at 1:57PM
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travelergt4(z7 GA)

Hi, thought I'd post to this same topic since it is related... We need to plant a match for an existing maple in Norcross, and believe it to be a red maple. However, though I know that red maples also can turn yellow, I know that Sugar Maple's are more prone to yellow vs. red. The maple we are trying to match had leaves that match pretty darn close to a red maple (as shown in the book "Landscape Plants of the Southeast", however it was definiately more yellow than red this season (according to the neighbors). We did not get a great look at the tree when it had leaves on it, coming onto this job only after they had fallen. I would like the fall leaf color to match and have found a nice Red Maple var. Embers of the perfect size, but don't know if that is going to be definiately red come next fall. Maybe the existing tree is a sugar maple, or just the species and not a variety of Red Maple. Can I get away with planting "Embers"? Many thanks in advance.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2006 at 4:12PM
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I had a 12' tall October Glory professionally planted 2 years ago and have 3 questions: 1.There was a slight bend in the trunk, so I carefully pulled the trunk straight and staked it for one year. Just removed the staking and find the trunk is still the same. Any thoughts? 2. I am shocked to find so many surface roots already. This tree is replacing an old water maple, so I'm really 'over' having surface roots! With good watering practice, is it safe to occasionally remove one or two of these surface roots. 3. I would like to feed this tree organically. Would appreciate any info on when and what to feed the October Glory as well as two new Autumn Brilliance Serviceberries. Thanks all !

    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 11:12AM
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